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How To Say ‘No’ – Politely – During The Holidays

Rebecca Jones  |  December 12, 2022

Overwhelmed? Here are tips to graciously manage common holiday issues, and decline decisively, when your time and talents are in demand.  

The holidays are so close we can almost smell the gingerbread baking. It’s so easy to be swept up in the spirit of the season and say ‘yes’ to everything and everyone as we strive to make this time of year more magical. Volunteering at your child’s holiday pageant, heading up the office social and hosting a family gathering are just a few of the things women are often asked to do, and we often say yes, even when we really don’t want to.

But all that perfection-seeking sweetness can sink our own holiday spirit and leave us feeling a little on the salty side. Consider this your guide to take back your holidays by saying no – politely – to the things that steal your joy. That way, you can still say ‘yes’ to those things that bring you peace and contentment… and actually enjoy yourself while you’re at it. 

You’re Asked To Head Up The Holiday Office Social

Sooner or later, we’re asked to do things at work that don’t exactly feel like the job we were hired to do. You’ve been asked to host the holiday office social. Or, maybe you were volunteered to coordinate all the food and gifts for the office party. If this happens and you don’t want this responsibility, avoid giving a reason that can be easily fixed, says Elaine Swann, Lifestyle and Etiquette Expert and author of Let Crazy Be Crazy. 

“Instead of saying, ‘I don’t have enough room at my home,’ which is something that can easily be overcome, say: ‘This year, that is something I cannot take on,’” Swann says. You want to be truthful but firm. After all, just because you are not hosting, doesn’t mean you can’t help if you want to. Saying “If you host it, or if someone else hosts, I would be happy to make a contribution,” is a great way to support the effort on your own terms, she explains. 

You’ve Been Asked To Head Up Your Child’s Holiday Pageant

Volunteering during the holiday season is hard, but most of us want to contribute for the greater good in some way. Things, however, just get busier as the year comes to a close. And when we are asked to participate, it can make it more stressful, especially if you are asked to organize an entire event. 

Consider a delayed no, says Swann. By saying “Let me get back to you,” this buys some time to really think about how much you can give of yourself. By saying it this way, you alleviate the pressure of the moment. Then, give it some thought and ask yourself if you can really do it. 

If possible, try to support the pageant in a smaller way. “You might offer to help with a part of the production or even, such as attending the rehearsal or provide snacks afterward,” says Swann. Just be sure your contribution is done in a peaceful way that works with your own life and your schedule. 

Your Family Wants To Spend More Than You On Gifts

Spending copious amounts of money on the holidays and gifts may not be in the cards for you this year (hello, inflation). But other family members want to go all in… So, what do you do when you don’t want to disappoint anyone? This is where you may have to “embrace the awkward,” and explain, “I just can’t spend that much,” says Swann. Or you could say that amount is not in our budget this year. 

Sometimes you have to push through the momentary displeasure to avoid long-term regret. You certainly do not want to go into the new year with added debt which could make things uncomfortable for you. If there is an amount that you are willing to contribute towards gifts, then say so. Or, saying to yourself, “I am comfortable opting out of gift-giving this year, because I can’t,” is emboldening, Swann says and a better way of avoiding a potentially longer uncomfortable situation. 

Your Partner Wants To Spend A Fortune. You Don’t 

In order to tackle this situation, you need to be very specific about outcomes and engage your partner ahead of time, says Amanda Clayman, Financial Therapist. It’s too late when you’re in a store shopping. But by saying to your partner ahead of time, “I would really love for us to have a holiday plan,” both parties are given the chance to contribute and put thought into what makes the holidays special for you, she explains. 

Discuss the thoughts and feelings you want to have during the holiday season. If one of you is a minimalist and one of you is a maximalist, then it’s even more important to coordinate a plan of action. “Make it about co-giving, and not compromise,” says Clayman. Each person is ideally represented and getting what’s most important to them. 

Your Child Wants A Gift That’s Too Expensive

Many of us want to give our kids the world, especially during the holiday season. Obviously, that’s not feasible or healthy. “If your child happens to want something that is beyond the budget, the first thing is that we want to be very aware of our own reaction,” says Clayman.

Avoid shaming a gift request by getting stressed or angry. When that happens, often the child learns their want is the problem. Keep your reaction as neutral as possible, explains Clayman. Try saying something like: “Yes, that would be amazing, but that’s beyond what we spend during the holidays. We have limits and we have a holiday budget.” This way, “you are making a positive long-term effect on the kiddo. After all, we all want our children to grow up with healthy money habits.” 

You Don’t Want New Debt In The New Year

While debt is common for many after the holidays, there are ways to make it easier to avoid. “Make a plan for spending, so there is no surprise when you follow through on the plan,” Clayman says. A great way to curb spending and going into debt is to create structural barriers for yourself. “By using only cash and walking out the door with $300, then that is all we will spend on our gifts,” she says. If you go out and shop on the weekends, then tally it up on Monday to see what you have spent and how much you have left. 

Another way to thoughtfully reflect on your spending from the holidays is to write a letter to yourself to open next November after looking at your credit card bill in January. If the full reality of that bill is uncomfortable, then the memory of that will help us make better choices and hold our future selves accountable. Thankfully, some of us learn this with age and learn from those mistakes. 

When You Get Into The Red (Stressed) Zone

There are so many places to be, so many things that need to be checked off our lists, and as women we tend to handle most of this. We might be doing all the shopping or making all the meals, or just ensuring our children are at all the events with bells on. But are all these tasks and duties bringing us the joy that we seek? 

“Honestly, the story we tell ourselves during the holidays is really compelling,” says Clayman. “We say we have to see all these friends, attend every event, make a gourmet meal, and that we should just change our attitude when we’re feeling overwhelmed, so we continuously chase that story,” she explains. But it doesn’t have to be that way. And when we’re feeling like we’re in the red zone, down and out, and when we begin dreading the things that are supposed to bring us joy, then we need to check in with ourselves. 

Nurture a reflective practice. “It might be journaling, meditation, or prayer, but we need a reflective activity where we can be quiet, listen, and be attentive with ourselves,” she says. When we listen to that voice, we ultimately can be in better relation and communication with our people and all people, especially during the holiday season. 

Finding The Truth You Seek

If we really think about it, what we are ultimately trying to create during the holiday season is a sense of connection, meaning, and belonging. Many of us have a rosy picture of what the holiday is supposed to look like. “The problem is if we are only able to connect when we are pumping money into the situation, that becomes a superficial level of connection,” says Clayman. 

The things that create the foundation of a good holiday include being truthful with ourselves and others, with all the messiness that goes along with that, she says. Because we all want to love and be loved for who we are during the holiday season, and always. 


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